While the pandemic is hitting the entire nonprofit sector very hard, the Covid-19 impact on arts nonprofits has been particularly acute. In good part this is because the social distancing necessary to combat the virus is so antithetical to the very nature of our cultural gathering spaces. The impact is also being deeply felt by artists and the “behind-the-scene” workers of the arts world, most of whom are freelancers with little or no safety net.
Weathering the storm
How well arts organizations will weather the storm depends on a variety of factors. There are the ones you would expect such as the availability of financial reserves, the size and history of the institution, and the extent of the organization’s reliance on income from ticket sales and programming. However, possibly just as important will be the organization’s ability to innovate and become a resource to the community during this time, to leverage the available resources, and to avoid the impulse to hibernate. And in all fairness, there is an element of luck and timing, for example, whether the organization just hosted its annual fundraiser or had it planned for May.
Fortunately, major players are stepping up to support arts organizations and the “essential worker” in the nonprofit arts sector. For example, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation joined forces with the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Ford Foundation, among dozens of other leading arts funders, to create a $10 million pool of funds, called Artist Relief, to grant to individual artists. The Getty has also announced both a $10 million fund in response to the Covid-19 impact on arts nonprofits, specifically small and mid-sized arts organizations in Los Angeles County, as well as a pool of emergency support grants for individual artists. These are just two of many. The Center for Cultural Innovation has assembled a very comprehensive list of all of the emergency resources available to artists and their families.
The Essential Nature of the Arts
One of the silver linings of these times is that the absolutely essential nature of the arts has perhaps never been so self-evident in our daily lives as artists are playing a critical role in helping each of us cope with the loss, stress and isolation of the pandemic. From the efforts of local KCRW DJ Anne Litt to get people throughout Los Angeles (and well beyond) up dancing around their homes to the voice of famous actor Patrick Stewart reading a Shakespearean sonnet each day to the countless creatives who have taken to Facebook Live to personally connect with their audiences, artists are providing indispensable light during this dark time.
There is an often-told story that, when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort during World War II, he responded “Then what are we fighting for?” While the quote may be apocryphal, the sentiment is nonetheless apt today—if we don’t support the arts during this crisis, what are we fighting for?